Spider-Woman 11

Alternating Currents: Spider-Woman 11, Drew and Spencer

Today, Drew and Spencer are discussing Spider-Woman 11, originally released September 28th, 2016. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.

The five stages — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance — are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with the one we lost. They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. But they are not stops on some linear timeline in grief.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Drew: As a psychological heuristic, Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief is arguably as well-known as Freud’s id, ego, and super-ego structural model. However, that may make it one of the most misunderstood, as Kübler-Ross explains in the quote above. We often talk about those five stages as if they fall into a prescribed linear order, but it was never really meant to be understood in that way. Which is to say: someone experiencing grief may feel any or none of these feelings in any order or any combination. Grief is a remarkably complex phenomenon that everyone experiences differently — some might feel mostly depression or mostly denial, while others, like Jessica Drew in Spider-Woman 11, feel mostly anger.

Kübler-Ross might understand anger as a natural part of anyone’s grief, but Jess has quite a bit to be angry about. It’s a scenario that’s designed to be as morally confusing as possible, but it puts Jess in a unique position from her relationships to the players involved: a dear friend was killed by an ex-boyfriend in a situation largely orchestrated by her best friend. Those last two relationships are relatively fresh in my mind, but writer Dennis Hopeless knows that we may need a refresher on Jess’ friendship with Bruce Banner. To that end, he devises a heartbreakingly sweet flashback sequence.

Kiss of the Spider-Woman

Artist Veronica Fish gets in some brilliant character work here, giving Jess a casual body-language that contrasts her tense anger throughout the rest of the issue. Indeed, Jess is in a kind of Hulk mode throughout the rest of the issue, smashing up both Banner’s secret lab and the Alpha Flight space station, though she is able to pause her rage long enough to have a congenial, productive conversation with Roger.

Actually, that conversation explicates the complexities of Jess’ feelings — we’ve seen the anger by then, but it’s there that she participates in bargaining and reveals a few hints of depression. Anger may be the easiest of the stages of grief to dramatize — especially when your character can punch people through walls when they want to — but the creative team comes up with an innovative way to express depression: color. Note the brightness of the Spider-Woman costume in the flashback sequence I included above in contrast to the darker colors used in the present-day sequences:

Darker

Obviously, there are important scene-lighting factors to consider — the flashback was set during the day, while these other sequences are set at night — but the net effect is a darkening of Jessica’s world. If that’s not enough to convince you, check out the costume Jess wears while infiltrating the Alpha Flight HQ:

Darkest

It’s completely desaturated, as if the color has literally drained out of Jessica’s life. Colorist Rachel Rosenberg cleverly eases us into this moment, keeping Jess in shadow until this moment, such that we might not notice the change until she’s contrasted against Captain Marvel’s garishly bright outfit. As with the darkness in Banner’s lab, we might understand this change as having a source within the narrative — a grey version of the Spider-Woman suit would definitely be better for stealth — but I think it also works devastatingly well as an indicator of Jess’ mental state. Lashing out at Carol isn’t colored by the bright red of anger, but the dull grey of depression.

Your mileage may vary on that reading, but I think it captures Jess’ shift in mood throughout the issue. At the start, all she wants to do is smash things, but by the time Carol is offering herself up to be smashed, Jess wants something else. Or, at least, she knows what she doesn’t want: to have anything to do with Carol. Indeed, by the issue’s end it’s impossible to say if Jess is just in grief over Bruce’s death, or if she’s also grieving the loss of her friendships with Carol and Clint. (I mention Clint because he hangs like a spectre over this issue, but the conclusion tightens the focus in on Carol, who has played a much larger role in this series in general.)

Spencer, I loved this issue. I’m regularly impressed by this series, and as usual, the creative team is firing on all cylinders. I’m particularly impressed with Fish’s work here — I enjoyed her tenure on Archie, but this is a revelation. She manages to find some continuity with Javier Rodriguez’s style without losing her identity, all while delivering an emotionally compelling issue. Did you enjoy this as much as I did?

Spencer: Absolutely, Drew, for all the reasons you mentioned and more. You’re right to praise Fish’s art — she delivers a remarkably confident first issue, and seems to be just as at home depicting gonzo action as she is subtle emotional beats.

carol

This moment in particular really struck me. Jess, of course, is in an absolute rage, but there’s so much subtle nuance contained within Carol’s expression. Carol’s eyes betray her pain and sympathy, but the rest of her face is firm and resolute — the issue further goes on to show that, while Carol may be hurting, she’s putting business first, but you can glean that information from her expression here alone, without a single line of dialogue.

The fact that Carol is putting business first is understandable, but I think it’s also at the heart of why Jessica’s so upset at her. Look at Jess’s conversation with Roger compared to her talk with Carol. Jess is losing it in both scenarios, but Roger is able to calm her down by listening to her, and even more importantly, by acknowledging her feelings. When Jess asks to be pulled back from her ledge, Roger instead agrees with her, and validates her feelings about everything that’s gone down. He’s not necessarily saying that Jess is right, but that she could be, and that’s exactly what she needed to hear.

Carol, meanwhile, insists on “hugging it out,” skipping right to the happy ending without realizing that she hasn’t earned it in this situation. To be fair, she’s not insisting that she’s right, and her position as Jess’s best friend means that their relationship is intrinsically different than Jess and Roger’s, but still, Carol very much comes across like she’s brushing Jess’s feelings aside in order to explain and justify herself (or even Clint). I can see why Jessica would be upset.

Of course, Jess is also so angry because she never wanted to get wrapped up in Carol’s Ulysses nonsense in the first place.

friends

Hopeless’s entire run has revolved around the idea that Spider-Woman was absolutely sick of the life of an Avenger. Ulysses, Civil War II, even the endlessly complicated scenario she describes in the image above are all exactly the type of scenarios Jess quit the Avengers in order to avoid, and the only reason she let herself get drawn into their orbit again is because Carol Danvers, her best friend in the entire world, quite literally begged her to help her out.

Considering Jess’s relationships with Carol, Clint, and Bruce, she would have had to deal with Bruce’s death no matter how far removed she was from the events of Civil War II. Thanks to Carol, though, she’s right in the thick of it; her own detective work seemed to support Ulysses’ visions, but now those same visions have led to Bruce Banner’s death. It seems pretty clear that Jess not only resents Carol for her role in Banner’s death, but for dragging her into it as well, for making her have any part of it at all.

Even if you’re fully, 100% on “Team Carol,” it’s pretty easy to look at the evidence presented in this issue and understand exactly why Jess would be ready to cut her out of her life entirely. Still, that doesn’t make it any less sad — Spider-Woman and Captain Marvel have become one of Marvel’s most iconic friendships, and it still hurts to see that come to an end. The full gravity of the loss hit me when I got to the teaser for next month’s issue: “Life’s A Beach (And So Is Sandman!)” That’s a scenario that almost certainly has nothing at all to do with Civil War II, which means that, even if their break-up isn’t permanent, it is something that’s going to last beyond this storyline. With or without Bruce Banner or Carol Danvers, life goes on.

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?

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15 comments on “Spider-Woman 11

  1. Are we worried at all about Jess isolating herself after this issue? She has every reason to be mad at Carol, but this could also be a symptom of depression. I know, I know, she still has Roger and Ben playing important roles in her supporting cast, but I wouldn’t put it past Hopeless to start laying the groundwork for such a turn in plain sight.

    • At the moment, I think the only relationship that has been damaged is Carol. But Jessica still has many friends, including Roger, Ben and the other Spiderwomen. Isolation isn’t a worry at this point, and Jessica has a great community of friends that she spends time with. Unfortunately, things like that just happen, but the fact that one relationship takes a bad turn does not necessarily mean that others will. Though who knows what will happen.

      Honestly, I would be disappointed if this was about depression. While the idea of having a superhero comic explore depression is great, and the idea of Spiderwoman exploring it is quite perfect considering Jessica could suffer postnatal depression, I do think it would be a disservice to this issue to say that the events happened because of depression. If that was supposed to be the case, I would have wanted Hopeless to signpost it earlier.

      The break up with Carol was so well internally justified that I feel it would harm this issue to suggest there was another, hidden factor. To tie this into something else feels like it would be cheating (unless, of course, it had already been signposted. Can you think of an earlier issue where something happened that could be a symptom of depression?).

      • I agree with you. However, Jessica does have a tendency to sink into depression – but generally those bouts tend to be caused by huge events (see post Secret-Wars and Bendis’ Spider-Woman Run. Also, Jess after Carol lost her memory in Enemy Within). I wouldn’t say that depression is a hidden reason that Jess breaks up with Carol. But I can see all these events (Banners death by Hawkeye, and breaking off her friendship with Carol) could lead to Jess becoming depressed. This time though, Jess has people she KNOWS she can fall on.

        • Yeah, I agree. I can certainly see her entering a depression similar to her issues post Secret Invasion in response to this arc and Civil War as a whole. That is certainly a possible route to take Jessica. Not the only take, but a take. I actually think Hopeless could do that very well.

  2. The last time Jess went into a spiral was after Secret Invasion – and Jess had support from no one. Now, she has Roger, Ben and a baby to worry about. So even if she tries to isolate herself Roger and Ben won’t let that happen.

  3. There is such a rawness to the issue that it hurts. Hopeless and Fish so effortlessly manages to get the emotions high – I love just love the opening scene with Banner. I don’t know if they actually had a friendship, but Hopeless finds the perfect angle. THe combination of Jessica’s personality and her powers would make her the exact sort of person who kind of does like the Hulk. And then the combination of the dialogue and the art makes it all look so fun. The chaste flirtation, the great posing (I love how active Jessica is throughout the flashback. Shows just how fun she is having. And there is a real comparison to Mark Ruffalo’s performance as Banner here, that sense that deep down, he actually does enjoy it).
    And all of this continues in the rest of the comic. My favourite panel has to be Jessica when Carol talks about hugging it out. She feels like she is shaking. Again, a strong sense of motion. And it is this motion that makes the emotions fel so true

    Though what I really love is how plotless this is. THe amazing cover combines spy and detective tropes to suggest this big mystery that is going to be solved, but the truth is, Jessica is useless. The question isn’t that there is a mystery to be solved (this week revealed there was a mystery, in Captain America), but Jessica simply isn’t equipped to solve it. She’s not a genius, and can’t find any of the clues. And when she tracks down her next lead, she doesn’t even reach Clint. There is literally no development of plot.

    And with no plot, it all comes down to character. To Jessica and Carol fighting. I disagree with Spencer that Carol is trying to find a shortcut. Carol is just misunderstanding the situation. She thinks that Jessica needs a chance to vent. She offers herself as both a punching bag and a friend to talk to. But Jessica isn’t angry. She’s enraged. I’m not going to call the relationship scorched earth. It isn’t the end. But this is going to be a dark turn in their friendship. A permanent wound.

    What a brilliant way to do a tie in. It is hard to think of another tie in that goes as laser focused on character. It is all about how the character feels about the event, and that is what makes it perfect. Especially as it creates a lasting wound. And again, the art does a fantastic job at showing those wounds through the ‘acting’, the way Jessica constantly moves (and Carol, to be fair. She start’s ramrod straight and authoritative, then enters a more relaxed and open stance at the end). This might be my favourite Tie In issue of Civil War 2. If not one of my favourite issues of the year. If we put a limit on the number of Tom King issues allowed, it is hard to imagine this not being in my Top 10. Holy Shit this was good.

    Oh, and Drew, I love your discussions on the colouring. That is so insightful

  4. ^^^Ditto to all of that. Interesting how this issue for me was the best to show how lonely Carol is in this fight. She was willing to let Jessica beat the crap out of her so their relationship could be okay. This fight feels like the most personal one Carol’s had in all of Civil War II. It felt true that she’d want to skip to the end and hug it out. She’s in the painful in-between with everyone else, of course she wouldn’t want it with her best friend.

    I’m excited to see where Jess heads next, and I hope Carol gets started on her apology tour soon.

    • Carol offering herself up to Jess so Jess could be the crap out of her is what absolutely killed me in this issue. The fact that Carol was willing to do that says a lot to me.

      • That’s interesting, because I saw that as demonstrating how emotionally disconnected Carol was. She doesn’t just say she’s not going to fight back, she says she can “take it,” which came off to me more like “you can’t actually hurt me, anyway.” Add that to her glibness about skipping to the end of their fight, and she really comes off as emotionally clueless here. I think there are reasonable stresses that might explain her characterization (her choices have already alienated half of her friends in this whole mess), but it’s a far cry from the compassionate-to-a-fault Carol I came to know in DeConnick’s run.

        • You are ignoring the first part of the line. The line is actually ‘You can keep hitting me, Jess– if that’s what you want. I can take it’. The first part changes the meaning. She isn’t saying that what Jessica is doing is useless (though Jessica can’t hurt Carol). Instead, she is giving Jessica permission to punch her.

          In fact, it is also important to note that Carol isn’t forbidding anything, and just asking for a chance to talk. And in that second to last page, just after giving Jessica permission to punch her as much as she likes, Carol offers to have that conversation in whatever way possible. Having offered herself up as a punching bag, she then offers herself up as both a person to talk to and to yell at. And combine that with art designed to make her look open (relaxed posture without authority, empathetic face, offering a hand), and I think there is more than enough evidence to show Carol approaching this with compassion.

          Carol clearly identifies that something is wrong, and as Jessica’s best friend, is doing everything she can to help. She is offering herself up as whatever Jessica needs. Carol’s responsibility, as Jessica’s best friend, is to do whatever she can to help Jessica, preferably before Jessica does something she regrets. So Carol is offering herself up as a safe place to vent. ‘You’re angry. Let’s do it with me, because you’re angry enough to do something you’ll regret. So do it with me, who understands where you are at and know you just need to vent, instead of with someone else where you do something you didn’t mean to and burn a bridge’

          Carol completely misjudged the situation, but I can’t imagine a reading that doesn’t show Carol as compassionate here. She’s not disconnected. She’s willing to let Jessica do whatever she needs to grieve, as long as it is with her. Again, all she is asking for is that Jessica does whatever she wants to do with her best friend, who knows her better than anyone in the world and understands exactly what Jessica is like in this situation, instead of lashing at semi randomly and doing something she regrets.

        • Matt makes a lot of good points below. But when Carol wanted to jump to the hugging it out part, I read that as her pushing her grief away and not being ready to deal with it. I truly believe Carol is hurting but her moving forward the way she is in Civil War II makes me think she’s running from her grief. If that makes sense.

        • Carol is certainly hurting, and Civil War II is in large part caused by the fact that Carol and Tony are grieving over the death of one they love really, really badly. The latest Invincible Iron Man does a really good job at showing how both of them are really messed up at the moment.

          I still stand by everything I say, but it is also true that Carol’s actions are influenced by her own struggles with grief.

        • I think it’s interesting that the contrast is with DeConnick’s Carol, because I think this is actually pretty in-line with the Carol we see in the events of Avengers Assemble #9-11. I mean, Danvers in DeConnick’s Captain Marvel run is my personal pinnacle for Carol, and I absolutely agree that she’s compassionate-to-a-fault in that, but I think it’s also very important to note how assured she is. Not necessarily in herself—she is constantly running up against herself in The Enemy Within, which isn’t always conducive to trusting her own head—but in the conclusions that she draws: that her actions, for better or worse, are the right ones. They’re worth it, at the end of the day.

          That’s something a lot easier to buy into in The Enemy Within. It’s tragic, sure, but there is nothing tainted about sacrificing herself. It’s a bittersweet victory, yes, because nobody wants to see their hero take a hit, but it’s something to be proud of. It’s something heroic. It’s very easy to understand how Carol’s compassion and conviction have mixed together to end in such a heroic sacrifice (and, incidentally, everyone’s response—Thor’s acknowledgement of Carol’s actions as that of a valiant sacrifice is a perfect character moment in the same way that it absolutely made sense for Jess, who is so used to being alone and has doubted her ability to belong so much, to feel so conflicted and betrayed by it).

          It’s more complicated in the Team Happy vs Team Sad storyline in Avengers Assemble. I don’t have my copy with me, so I apologise for any misquotes, but I remember the particular scene I want to reference pretty well—Jessica Drew is my favourite Marvel character, and I consider this scene pretty integral to her character. But anyway—regarding Carol. (Spoilers for the storyline follow, for anyone who hasn’t read it.) When the Avengers need someone to take a hit for the team, the natural conclusion for most of them (Tony’s suggestion) is to drop the Hulk, because he has already been contaminated with the bacteria. The reason I remember this is because of how big it is for Jess, and how it perfectly caps off the Jessica/Hulk aspect of this entire storyline: her immediate defence of the Hulk’s agency. Standing in a room with Avengers as iconic as Captains Marvel and America, as well as Tony Stark, Jessica Drew is the only one who stands up for the Hulk’s right to choose what happens to him. (It actually makes considering this entire issue so much more heartbreaking; Team Sad forever.) It makes sense—Jessica’s entire life has been about being moulded into a weapon to be used, and often being manipulated for the ends of others. Of course, of the assorted Avengers, she was the one absolutely adamant that the Avengers had to be better, that they had to give Hulk the choice about whether he wanted to be a hero or not.

          The important thing for this discussion—other than a throwback to Jess and Hulk (and also Jess and Bruce) friendship, which is definitely poignant in light of this issue—is Carol. Tony, accompanied by the Captains, comes striding in, saying they’re going to drop the Hulk. Jess, of course, immediately objects. And Carol? Carol doesn’t even hesitate for a second. She argues immediately: “Jess, people are going to die!” And I think that’s the important thing about Carol. She is absolutely compassionate. If she could take that sacrifice instead of the Hulk, she would in a heartbeat. (I think she even volunteers at some point, as does Tony, but I could be wrong.) But Carol is willing to throw one person down to save a thousand, and she can’t quite believe Jessica wouldn’t too. She immediately reminds Jessica of the gravity of the situation, as if Jessica doesn’t get it—as if Jessica only values Hulk’s agency more than the consequences because it hasn’t quite hit her what the ramifications will be. There is no real fallout to this argument—Jess insists they give Hulk the choice, and he chooses to be an Avenger anyway. No harm, no foul, and you have Jess and Carol trading remarks about the two nude heroes and their walk of shame at the end of the issue.

          Spider-Woman #11 is different. There is fallout—there has to be fallout. This time, Carol’s conviction and brand of compassion (which has always been about the welfare of many; whatever Carol does, she does to save the world, which doesn’t always look like choosing the individual corners of her world) are in direct opposition to Jess’ empathy and absolute defence of agency. Jess’ empathy is perhaps not the most important aspect of her arc this issue (though it is one of her defining characteristics, I think), but it’s her empathy and ability to connect—something so remarkable because of her isolated and untrusting adolescence, something so pivotal
          to her relationships in this issue and their effect on her—that make this issue so emotionally charged. It’s her incredible emotional capacity (which she constantly shortchanges, kind of like a self-deprecating joke) that leads to her impulsiveness and also heightens her frustrated and upset response to Carol’s inability to get it. Carol, for her part, is incredibly compassionate. Always has been. She’s just not necessarily empathic. She cares about Jess so much but they’re not the same. They’re far from it. That’s something I think Carol understands in the broad, general strokes—in that she’s a much warmer person than Jess, in that she’s more open to trust, in that she has more faith in the machine—but, I think, falls short in when it comes to opinion. Much like many powerful, pivotal Marvel heroes, Carol struggles to comprehend a different opinion to her own—or maybe, more accurately, different values to her own. Especially when they’re coming from places where she expected support; maybe even needed it. I think this is Carol loving Jess and thinking she understands what Jess wants and needs—thinking she gets where Jess is at—but being hopelessly out of her depth, misjudging the situation. I think Carol’s a bit emotionally clueless here (or at least, out of her depth), but it’s not from a lack of compassion. She’s got plenty of compassion—she just lacks the necessary empathy to really understand where Jess is coming from here.

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